Suns forward Jared Dudley discusses recent team injuries and how that impacts a team resting a few star players, following Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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Dan Bickley and Mark Faller discuss the Indiana job opening, which could pull Steve Alford away from UCLA, and whether the Bruins would pursue Suns’ head coach Earl Watson. Video: azcentral sports
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NBA players who have tallied the most points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals in a single game this season.
USA TODAY Sports
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In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Russell Westbrook is leading the Thunder to a strong finish in the regular season.
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Suns point guard Tyler Ulis reacts to Friday’s home loss to the Magic.
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Kent Somers and Jay Dieffenbach discuss the Suns’ decision to shut down Eric Bledsoe for the season and the possibility of them getting UCLA’s Lonzo Ball? Video: azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick tells us why the Spurs will be hard-pressed to secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
USA TODAY Sports
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HoopsHype writer Alex Kennedy discusses some of the players who will be free agents this summer.
USA TODAY Sports
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Phoenix Suns center Alan Williams watches his mother, Jeri Williams, sworn in as Phoenix police chief in Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Paul Coro/azcentral sports)
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Hosted by head coach Earl Watson, who says the Suns “embrace and celebrate our youth.” Video: Phoenix Suns
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Jared Dudley on Suns’ loss to Heat
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Tyler Ulis on Suns’ loss to Magic
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BROOKLYN – Four months into his first NBA season, Marquese Chriss doesn’t feel like a rookie anymore. For the most part, his older teammates have gone easy on him. Aside from bringing water and Gatorade for trips to airports, Chriss hasn’t had a lot of rookie chores.
This irks second-year guard Devin Booker.
“We got to give him more stuff to do,” Booker said. “They had me doing everything. When Markieff (Morris) was here, he would send me at 2 a.m. to go get some chips at CVS.”
Responded coach Earl Watson with a laugh: “Said the guy who shot 20 times (a game) as a rookie.”
The point is, as the season enters its final stretch, Chriss feels more confident. Or to use his word “comfortable.” Since the All-Star break, the 19-year old has showed as much, playing as well as nearly any rookie in the league, a stretch that continued in Thursday’s 126-98 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.
BOX SCORE: Nets 126, Suns 98
In the first quarter alone, Chriss showed off his growing versatility. On the night’s opening possession, the 6-foot-10 forward backed down Brooklyn’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, missed in the paint, but was fouled on the follow. Two minutes later, Chriss took a pass from point guard Tyler Ulis and buried a transition 3. Not much later came the signature move: Catching a Ulis lob and dunking with authority.
“Ultra-aggressive,” forward Alan Williams said of Chriss’ recent play. “It’s great to see him in that role, asking for the ball in all the places on the court. It doesn’t matter who’s guarding him, he feels like he has the advantage.”
Entering Thursday, Chriss had averaged 12.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in 14 games since the All-Star break. His improved 3-point accuracy (44.4 percent since the break) had given him a 62.1 effective field goal percentage, a metric that accounts for the extra value of a made 3. According to NBA.com, that produced a 14.9 percent differential from Chriss’ pre-All-Star break efficiency, the second highest margin in the NBA.
Chriss’ explanation: Better shot selection.
“A lot of the shots I took (in the first half of the season) were contested,” he said. “They weren’t good shots. I think this second half I’ve taken a lot better shots and I’ve kind of picked my spots of when to go to the hoop.”
Said Watson: “What’s impressed me most is he’s focusing more on rebounding. I think he can become a better rebounder as he gets older. And the play he made (Tuesday at Miami). Iso from the elbow, he went left, cuffed it and dunked with the left hand. That was pretty impressive.”
Even so, Thursday’s result was ugly. To start, Phoenix had just nine available players (starting forward T.J. Warren was out with a left foot issue). By game’s end, Watson was down to six after rookie Derrick Jones Jr. left with when an apparent wrist issue and Booker and center Alex Len fouled out.
It makes for a difficult way to win on the road, even against the Nets, the league’s worst team. Behind Chriss and Booker, the Suns started strong, leading by 15 in the first half, but Brooklyn rallied, leading 52-50 at halftime. The Nets pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring Phoenix 32-15 as Booker, and nearly everyone else in road purple, cooled. From there, it got ugly.
Booker led the Suns with 28 points. Ulis had 12 assists. The Suns (22-50) shot 36 percent, running their losing streak to a season-high six games. Chriss overcame third-quarter foul trouble to finish with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He shot 8 of 15 from the field and 3 of 7 from deep. With 10 games to go, he’s become the team’s biggest bright spot.
“Realistic expectations over the summer are for him to become a better 3-point shooter,” Watson said. “He’s shooting it in the 40’s right now, post All-Star break, which is high. He can be that and more. Post play is important. The last couple games he’s dominated the post and he’s demanding the ball, which is interesting for a guy who’s still 19. Physically, he’s going to get stronger and bigger, which means he’ll be even more of a force down low. The canvas is still blank for him.”
Suns at Celtics
When: 4:30 p.m.
Where: TD Garden, Boston.
TV/radio: FSAZ/KTAR FM 98.7
Boston update: The Celtics (46-26) have won five of six. They sit just a game behind leader Cleveland in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They have won 12 of 13 at home. On March 5, Suns rookie point guard Tyler Ulis stole the ball in the final seconds and drilled a 3 for a 109-106 win, one of the Suns’ best of the season.